Thunder Bay·Audio

Charity not the answer to First Nations suicide crisis, anti-poverty expert says

A private donor deserves credit for the generous gift that will fund a suicide prevention program in a northern Ontario First Nation, but the fact it was needed is "totally unacceptable," says Jim Silver.

Anonymous donor pledged $380,000 for suicide prevention after 2 girls died in Wapekeka First Nation

A private donation will fund a suicide prevention program for youth in Wapekeka First Nation, where two girls died by suicide in January. (YouTube)

A private donor deserves credit for the generous gift that will fund a suicide prevention program in a northern Ontario First Nation, but the fact it was needed is "totally unacceptable," says Jim Silver.

The chair of the department of urban and inner-city studies at the University of Winnipeg said relying on private donations for public concerns "is not a path most Canadians want to go down."

The anonymous donor pledged approximately $380,000 to Wapekeka First Nation after hearing about the deaths by suicide of two 12-year-old girls in early January.

The First Nation had asked Health Canada to fund the suicide prevention program last summer after learning about a suicide pact among girls in the remote community, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. But no help arrived before the deaths of Jolynn Winter and Chantel Fox.

Jim Silver is the chair of the department of urban and inner-city studies at the University of Winnipeg. (University of Winnipeg)
"All credit to the private individual, but what happens when children die in the next community, is there going to be another individual who will put their private money in?" Silver asked. "And then a third tragedy happens and we're going to wait for a third generous individual — that's not a solution to the problem."

The solution, according to Silver, is in the federal government meeting its constitutional responsibility to First Nations with public policy and adequate funding to improve the living conditions for Indigenous peoples across the country.

"People are healthy or not healthy based on the poverty in their communities," he said. "What we need is a strategy that strengthens Indigenous communities, empowering people to contribute directly to their own communities."

A spokesperson for Health Canada said it is now committed to funding the suicide prevention program in Wapekeka, regardless of the private donor's contribution.

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